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Shahla Khan Salter

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How to Fight Hate Without Becoming Hateful

Posted: 02/06/2013 7:56 am

There are as many interpretations of Islam as there are Muslims.

At Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) Ummah Canada we are open about our interpretation of Islam and we are not afraid to say who we are. We uphold freedom of expression and human rights for all, including freedom of conscience. We acknowledge that only in a secular society are these rights fully enjoyed by individuals and believe the only truly Islamic society is a secular one.

We believe women have the God-given right to self-determination and leadership in all facets of society including at the mosque and at prayer. We oppose gender segregation. We believe that Allah loves us all -- queer and straight and that our queer brothers and sisters make the world a better, richer place.

And we at MPV fight peacefully against those who call themselves Muslim and inflict crimes against humanity, through rigid and intolerant versions of Islam, using inauthentic hadith (sayings of Muhammad) and literal interpretations of the Quran to incite and spread hatred and misogyny.

When we first founded MPV in Canada in 2010, we asked ourselves: how would our Muslim brethren, the ones who not only disagreed with our principles, but despised them, react to our public statements, if not our very existence?

Though it has been shown that almost 70 per cent of Muslims in America do not align themselves with conservative Muslim organizations and traditional mosques, we know there are Muslims in our own backyard who oppose us.

But we were not afraid -- not in 2010 and not now. We have held mixed congregational prayers, led by strong Muslim women. We marched at Pride with our queer Muslim members . We publicly demonstrated at embassies of countries who commit atrocities in the name of Islam.

We have taken calls from Muslim women who left abusive marriages and queer Muslim youth who are coming out to their conservative Muslim parents. We have reassured them that Allah is on their side.

And we are safe. We owe our safety to a secular society with laws to protect us and allow us to exist.

But we have also received criticism. It has come from all sides.

It has come from young Muslim men, seated in the audience when I have delivered talks who have questioned my ability to understand Islam because I do not speak Arabic.

It has come from moderate Muslim feminists who have told me that there is no place for queer Muslims in Islam.

It is has come from atheists, who have said they are not bigots while standing firm in their belief we are a monolith.

It has come from fundamentalist Christians who have told us that our version of Muhammad as the social justice warrior is wrong and that we should love Jesus.

We love Jesus but we are not wrong about Muhammad.

We are not wrong about Muhammad who appointed the first female Imam -- Umm Waraqa, who married Ayesha at the age of 19 , who fought for the poor, who never beat his wives , who never ordered the death of homosexuals, nor the massacre of Jews and who said, "feed the poor, free the captive, heal the sick" and "there are as many paths to God as there are souls on earth."

But the incitement of hatred, examples of which proliferate our society, does not help our cause, nor humanity as a whole.

It does the opposite. Hatred begets hatred. It causes confusion, isolation, injury, death and destruction.

It causes bullying in schools and vandalism of places of worship. It incites laws that remove rights from innocent people and threatens all our rights. It incites war and terrorism on all sides.

The incitement of hatred caused Anders Breivik to massacre seventy-seven people in Norway, Wade Michael Page to kill seven people, including a police officer at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and the murder of a man, named Sunando Sen, age 46, who was pushed off the platform at a subway station in front of an oncoming train in December 2012 by a woman named Erika Menendez, who "hated Muslims."

Sunando Sen, was a Hindu American. The subway station where he was murdered displays ads that implicitly call Muslim "savages."

Some say hatred should be banned. Perhaps.

But if hateful expression is banned will we then simply become the victims of laws that violate our safety and our security that we cannot then oppose?

Because without freedom of expression, people espousing bigotry have little opposition.

What about questioning the reason hatred and bigotry thrive in western societies now more than ever?

Why must we worry about the safety of queer youth in high school in a society where there is no law against being queer?

Why must women be worried about their safety on city streets when there is no law that says we must stay home?

Why must racial, sexual and religious minorities worry about harassment, vandalism and profiling when there is no law against being different?

Our culture must change.

It must reflect the society that generations before us built, who made our laws.

It must reflect compassion, tolerance, freedom and love .

It must place individual rights before mob rule.

If it does not, is there much difference between our society and societies where homosexuality, immodesty and apostasy are crimes?

Perhaps, foremost we must remember the words of Friedrich Nietzsche -- "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster."

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